May 26, 2024

Melbourne’s Lost Buildings

Melbourne was founded in 1835 and has been rebuilt many times since. Here is are the best examples of Melbourne's lost buildings.

MELBOURNE FISH MARKETS

Flinders Street, block between King and Spencer

Melbourne's Lost Buildings: The Melbourne Fish Markets

Melbourne's Lost Buildings: Melbourne Fish Markets

Of all Melbourne's lost buildings, this is probably the most spectacular.

Built in 1890, for more than 50 years this was used as a commercial market for fish and other fresh produce. It ran the block next to Flinders Street Station, and had been designed with the station in mind, the two buildings complementing each other.

Same site, present day.

In the lead up to the Summer Olympics in 1956 it was decided to demolish a number of Melbourne's older buildings, in order to 'modernise' the look of the city.

Sadly, this was one of the buildings to go, although the demolition was not completed until 1959. It was replaced initially with a carpark, the block now shared by a nondescript office building.

COLONIAL MUTUAL LIFE BUILDING

316 Collins Street

Melbourne's Lost Buildings: Colonial Mutual Life Building

The 'Equitable Company', at the time America's largest insurance firm, set themselves the ambition of constructing 'the grandest building in the southern hemisphere' for their Melbourne headquarters. It would take five years, and £500 000 , to realise.

Constructed from granite and marble, the building had an imposing façade, complemented by hard timber fixtures inside. In 1923, the company was taken over by Colonial Mutual, who assumed control of the building.

The CML Building, as it came to be known, was the city's most lavish, and served as corporate headquarters for 30 years.

Melbourne's Lost Buildings: The Colonial Mutual Life Statue
The Equitable Statue, Melbourne Uni
Former Colonial Mutual Life Building decorations, outside Melbourne Museum
Former Colonial Mutual Life Building decorations, outside Melbourne Museum

High maintenance costs eventually did it in.

CML vacated the property in 1957, and it was demolished in 1960. The building was not considered worthy of heritage protection; at the time it was viewed as staid, and old fashioned.

Some of the decorative elements were saved. The 'Equitable Statue' from above the front entrance went to Melbourne University, where it stands in the grounds today (near the Bailleu Library), and some of the granite from the building itself can be found outside the Melbourne Museum.

Same site, present day.

A plain office block stands in its place today. The logo 'CML' is emblazoned across its street level pillars, to remind people of what once was.

THE FEDERAL HOTEL

555 Collins Street

Melbourne's Lost Buildings: The Federal Hotel

Built in 1888, to coincide with the Melbourne Centennial Exhibition, The Federal Hotel was once one of the largest and most opulent hotels in the world.

The first two floors housed impressive dining, reading, smoking and billiard rooms, with the remaining 5 stories given over to luxuriously appointed guest rooms. It was where Melbourne's elite chose to stay, and entertain.

Melbourne's Lost Buildings: interior of the Federal Hotel
Lobby interior

The lobby was so impressive that the building became a tourist attraction in its own right.

As with many buildings from the 19th century, upkeep on the property was high, and there were constant issues in keeping it compliant with safety regulations. The hotel was sold and demolished in 1973, to make way for a modern redevelopment.

Same site, present day

Pleas to have it saved as a heritage building were ignored by the Government of the time. Thousands of people turned out to watch it being demolished.

THE AUSTRALIA BUILDING

43 - 45 Elizabeth Street

Melbourne's Lost Buildings: The Australia Building

When it was built in 1889, this 12 storey office building was the third tallest in the world. It was also the first, anywhere, to employ mechanical elevators; the innovative design utilised hydraulics, powered by water pumped underground from the Yarra River.

The Australia Building's handsome red and cream façade could be seen right across the city, and was a well-known local landmark for decades.

Melbourne's Lost Buildings: The Australia Building

But this was another aging building that struggled to adapt to the requirements of the modern era. In particular, the Australia Building's design had created a labyrinth of small, interconnected offices, that were eventually seen as a fire hazard.

The same site, present day

It was demolished in 1980, the site standing vacant for several years. A considerably less striking building stands in its place today.

TIVOLI THEATRE

235 Bourke Street

Melbourne's Lost Buildings: The Tivoli Theatre

Harry Rickards was a Victorian era stage performer with lofty ambitions. In 1895, he borrowed money and built the 'New Opera House' on Bourke Street, hoping to establish it as the city's foremost live venue.

It was a well appointed, 2 000 seat venue, and Rickards' innovative programming ideas drew plenty of attention. Harry Houdini appeared there, and it was also the site of Australia's first movie screening (read more about this, here).

Melbourne's Lost Buildings: The Tivoli Theatre

Sold by Rickards in 1912, the venue was re-named the 'Tivoli Theatre'. It would continue to be one of the city's most prominent live venues, right through until the 1960s.

Same site, present day

But Melbourne was a city with a surplus of live theatres, and after World War II many of these were re-purposed, or demolished. The Tivoli was converted into a cinema, the building was then destroyed by fire in 1967. The site was sold and redeveloped.

A mixed use building stands on the spot today; at street level is a small retail arcade, named in the former theatre's honour.

QUEEN VICTORIA BUILDINGS

Corner of Swanston and Collins Streets

Melbourne's Lost Buildings: The Queen Victoria Building

Built opposite Town Hall in 1888, the Queen Victoria Buildings were a mix of shops and offices that filled a city block.

A rare local example of French Second Empire architecture, the elaborate façade and roof of the building was augmented by a number of statues, including a sizable one of the monarch it was named after.

Melbourne's Lost Buildings: The Queen Victoria Building interior
The Queen Victoria Building interior
Melbourne's Lost Buildings: The stylish shops of Queens Walk
The stylish shops of Queens Walk

But the building's most striking feature was 'Queen's Walk': a light filled, glass roofed retail arcade populated with upmarket shops. It was considered one of the city's most attractive spaces, and became an iconic location for both  locals and tourists.

City Square, circa 1970.
City Square, circa 1970

In the 1960's, Melbourne City Council decided to construct a large public square in the city centre.

Across a decade it gradually acquired parts of the Queen Victoria Buildings for this purpose. Demolition commenced in the late 1960's and took several years (The Regent Theatre was also acquired and scheduled to be knocked down, as part of the same project, but was saved by a union ban).

The new open space was dubbed 'City Square'.

But the windswept, concrete rectangle was never popular. Considered uninviting, it was largely ignored by the public, and was never heavily utilised (read about the infamous artwork, 'The Vault', that formed part of this redevelopment, here).

The same site, present day

While the Council had pledged to preserve City Square as open space, its unpopularity made them reconsider. In the early 1990's, half of the square was sold for redevelopment, and the Westin Hotel was built on this portion.

THE EASTERN MARKETS

THE SOUTHERN CROSS HOTEL

Exhibition Street, between Bourke and Little Collins
Melbourne's Lost Buildings: The Eastern Markets
The Eastern Markets

Built in 1847 as a flower market, for thirty years this was Melbourne's premier fresh produce outlet. It was eventually superseded by the Queen Victoria Markets, but continued to operate until the 1960's.

By this time, trade had declined and the markets had taken on a seedy reputation.

Melbourne's Lost Buildings: The Southern Cross Hotel
The Southern Cross Hotel

The site was sold and the buildings demolished in 1962, to make way for the Southern Cross Hotel.

Built by Pan Am airlines, then the world's largest, the 14 storey property adopted the most modern of looks. Its stylised design stood out dramatically against its staid surroundings, and was divisive; the hotel would be hated and loved in equal measure.

This was where the jet set came to stay, and famous guests included: The Beatles, Marlene Dietrich and Judy Garland. Frank Sinatra stayed there during his infamous 1974 tour of Australia, when he created a storm by referring to local female journalists as 'hookers.'

The Brownlow Medal, the Logies, and a succession of Liberal Party election night parties were hosted in its function rooms (read a fuller history of the hotel, here).

Same site, present day

The Southern Cross lasted to 1999.

With its once modern appearance now looking very dated, it was sold and demolished. The site sat vacant for several years, before it was replaced by a large-scale office block, now home to the Commonwealth Bank and Vic Roads.

LONSDALE HOUSE

259 Lonsdale Street

Melbourne's Lost Buildings: Lonsdale House

Lonsdale House started life a series of warehouses, built in the 1890s.

In 1935, the property was sold and completely re-designed; it was refashioned as a medium scale office building, its exterior remodelled in the Art Deco style, then at the height of its popularity.

Same site, present day

Lonsdale House would eventually be undone by its location. Standing adjacent to the Myer Department Store, it fell victim to Myer's expansion plans.

In 2010 it was demolished to make way for the 'Emporium', a Myer funded shopping arcade focussed on fashion. While there were numerous calls for the building to receive heritage protection, then planning minister Justin Madden immediately approved Myer's plans, without consulting the community.

When it was demolished, Lonsdale House was one of only 20 Art Deco buildings left in Melbourne.

CAFE AUSTRALIA

264 - 270 Collins Street

Melbourne's Lost Buildings: Cafe Australia

American Architect Walter Burley Griffin is most famous for designing Australia's Capital City, Canberra.

But he left a wider legacy across Australia, having designed a number of buildings. In Melbourne, one of these was 'Cafe Australia', which opened in 1916.

Melbourne's Lost Buildings: Cafe Australia, elaborate interior
Cafe Australia, elaborate interior

Featuring an elaborate entryway and open plan interior, lit with skylights during the day, the cafe instantly became one of Melbourne's most popular eateries.

Sadly, it did not last long. The owners struggled to turn a profit, and sold the business in 1927.

Melbourne's Lost Buildings: Hotel Australia
Hotel Australia

It was replaced by 'Hotel Australia'.

Part of the redevelopment included the construction of a retail mall, filling the bottom three levels of the property. The hotel's rooms were above this, bars and restaurants below. At the height of its popularity, the mall attracted 25 000 customers a day.

Same site, present day

The Hotel was sold and demolished in 1988. In its place is now 'Australia on Collins', a mixed use building with a reduced number of retail outlets, and an increased number of offices.

 More MUSEUM OF LOST

11 thoughts on “Melbourne’s Lost Buildings

    1. On re-reading, I see that the Queen Victoria buildings were at the site of the current City Square. This means they were at the corner of Swanston and Collins streets, not Swanston and Bourke as you have.

      This can be seen in the video on the right side of Swanston street prior to the town hall.

        1. Here is another photo of the mystery tall building on the west side of Swanston street looking south.

          The building might go back a fair way from the street if it sells artistic stationery!

          Does the sign above say Sicurelli or Gicurette?

          The host website dates the photo to 1890, but it might be 1887 or earlier as I cannot see the portico on the Town Hall.

          https://www.pinterest.com.au/pin/292804413260265317/

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